On Friday, we have the distinct pleasure of hearing James Brewer Stewart give a talk entitled, "The Old Slavery and the New: History, Memory, and the Challenges of Human Trafficking". His talk was one of those all too rare occasions when a historian can bridge the gap between past practices and present policies and offer a compelling case for present action. He argued that the abolitionist movement of the first half of the 19th century could provide a model for the creation of a movement to abolish slavery in the world today which Stewart regards as a more pressing problem today than ever before. In particular, he asserted that the moment is right for a movement that would demand the immediate emancipation of all slaves in the world. His talk was particularly successful in tying events in the 19th century to the current upswing in youth activism, the spread of technology, the vitality of the evangelical movement both at specifically evangelical colleges and in American life in general, and the dire need to eliminate the immoral practice of slavery from the earth.
The talk was one of those great opportunities to discuss and grapple with a wide range of issues from the uses of the past, to the nature of slavery (in the past and today), and the potential and structure of any movement with global goals and ambitions. The discussions poured over in a local watering hole and Steward graciously hung around talking to faculty and graduate students.
My students, who generally study pre-modern Eastern Mediterranean, we particularly excited about Stewart's talk. Not only have there been some interesting recent works that look at various aspects of slavery in the Ancient and Medieval East (e.g. Jennifer Glancy's recent survey or M. McCormick's Origins of the European Economy), but our work in Cyprus and in the Muslim east brought to the fore important transnational issues (e.g. what is the impact of evangelical involvement in various social justice issues in countries where Western Christianity is looked upon with concern or even hostility).
The point of this post today is purely advertisement. Between Friday's Red River Valley History Conference and Stewart's talk, I was impressed and invigorated by the vitality present in our small history department and small graduate program. Check out the photos on the web page! And our graduate student members of the history honor society, Phi Alpha Theta, should be commended for their hard work and successful conference.